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Marketing on a budget

Updated: Jan 7, 2020

This post shares 12 low to no-budget marketing activities that any small or medium-sized business can afford.

When we meet with business owners, our conversations usually turn to their marketing woes. They A) start by referring to their website; B) mention they don’t do enough social media; C) then talk about their promotions. Then they confide that they desperately need to drum up more business, or else. Finally, they ask for advice on what to do!

This last time, we resolved to put all my general marketing advice for small businesses together into one, simple, digestible, and sharable post. These tips can help entrepreneurs who can’t afford to work with a marketing agency or hire a marketer. If that’s you, we hope you find some of these 12 low to no-budgeting activities both appropriate and valuable.

1. A-frame sign

Any real estate marketer can testify to how signage rules. A must for most retail and restaurants, a portable “sandwich-sign” (or A-frame sign) will help pull customers off the sidewalk and into your business. For best results, add some clever writing & design.

2. A LinkedIn page

Canada’s businesses love LinkedIn. Per Alexa, LinkedIn is Canada’s 16th most popular website. So, go ahead build your company page (you can follow LinkedIn’s instructions here). Then use LinkedIn to network with your current/prospective customers actively.

3. A website

While the estimates vary, only around half of Canada’s businesses have websites. So, if you have one at all, good for you! If you don’t, you can try building one yourself with a service like GoDaddy’s. Their website builder lets you start for free with no credit card required. (Hosting costs vary.)

4. Business cards

A business card (or lack thereof) says a lot about your credibility and professionalism. Don’t cheap out. Make sure everyone in your organization has a nice card and uses them to network, if/when appropriate. For the lowest prices, go online and/or look for local printers.

5. Search advertising

Dollar-for-dollar, few marketing tactics tend to outperform basic text ads on popular search engines. Try setting up and managing your own search campaigns. For as little as $50/monthly, you can experiment with ads and reach local, national, and international customers.


With a little moxie, you can do some DIY public relations work to complement your marketing. Try building relationships with local newspapers, bloggers, and other “media-makers.” If you pitch your story well, they might give you some free (and very valuable) media exposure.

7. Email

Email marketing can work powerfully, but you need to follow the rules. (You can check out this handy CASL checklist published by the Globe and Mail.) Beyond that, try to keep your emails short, sweet, and focused. And make sure to include a clear call to action in each.

8. Postcards and flyers

Printed pieces, like postcards and flyers, still have a place in many Canadians’ media consumption habits. You can hire a local printer and/or a provider like Canada Post to reach households and/or businesses near you. Try including a promotional offer to increase response.

9. Referral & repeat programs

Customers cost a lot to attract, so once you have them, try to keep them loyal! You can introduce a homegrown reward program. Even something as basic as a little reward card can work like a charm. Also, if appropriate, offer your customers some sort of incentive for referring friends and family.

10. Business associations

Some entrepreneurs swear by participating in business associations, like chambers of commerce, business improvement groups, and industry associations. While the costs of doing so can vary wildly, investing in networking opportunities for your business usually makes a lot of sense.

11. Tidy up your space

What’s that? Yes, appearances matter. Keep your business environment clean and orderly, especially if you service the public. If your space feels a little rundown, try refreshing it with a coat of paint and a plant or two. Your customers and employees will appreciate the effort.

12. Testimonials

Good customer reviews can make a huge difference, especially in competitive marketplaces. So, build and manage your reputation online. Make sure you prompt your customers to review you. Then try publishing customer reviews testifying to your awesomeness on your website.

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